FINLAND -- Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer made a confident start to Rally Finland to end the leg in ninth, 11th and 18th positions respectively overall.
The opening leg of the rally was dominated by the Peugeot's who were almost driving their own rally given the times they were setting to end the day in the top three positions and over a minute ahead of the nearest contender. As was also expected, the locals put in a good performance with many settings times well inside the top ten.
Hyundai regular Freddy Loix and co-driver Sven Smeets started the rally well and continued with a good pace throughout the day. Their only complaint was not being able to set times close to those of the Peugeots.
"We had a very good day - we've driven flat out all the way and the car has been performing well. I'm pleased to have got past Markko [Martin] with a little help from him," explained Loix. "Our road position will be a bit more important tomorrow. It's not perfect but I'm happy, especially as many of the stages are longer and that will suit me. If we get some rain like the showers this afternoon it could have an effect - you really have to concentrate all the time because it's so close amongst those of us behind the Peugeots that even the slightest mistake will cost time and lose places. And it really is like like a grand prix in the forest - we've reached speeds of up to 210kph."
Local hero and three-time Finland winner Juha Kankkunen started the day with a slight misfire due to a faulty spark plug and was unable to gain much ground in the opening stages but once rectified began to enjoy the rally and set more competitive times.
"This afternoon was a lot better. We struggled a bit this morning but now the car is fine and we don't need to make any adjustments in service," said the four-time World Champion. "Our road position tomorrow is not perfect but some of the stages will be more slippery for the front-runners. But I know the stages well and I like driving them so hopefully tomorrow will be a good day."
German team-mates Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer had a more difficult day, also starting with faulty spark plugs like Kankkunen and experiencing an engine misfire. Once remedied they were more comfortable but lost time on the 25.48km Palsankyla when the car stalled and Schwarz had difficulty selecting reverse gear to maneovre his way back into the stage.
"The last stage was the roughest so far. We damaged the front left rim - the mousse worked but we were bouncing out of the ruts and you are absolutely on the limit. You could go off anywhere when you're on the limit and controlling the car is difficult on rough stages like that that," explained Schwarz.
News from our rivals
Leg one only saw a few retirements, the most significant being those of Kenneth Eriksson (Skoda) whose fuel feeder system malfunctioned and ran the car dry of fuel and Francois Delecour (Mitsubishi) who experienced a collapsed suspension in SS9. Local privateer favourite Juuso Pykalisto (Peugeot) retired with gearbox failure in stage 6 and Ford's Armin Kremer also experienced with transmission problems. Alister McRae (Mitsubishi) lost about 15 seconds with a broken front damper in stage 9 and Marcus Gronholm also dropped a few seconds with a cautious drive due to a delicate suspension. Both Citroen's of Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien experimented with different set-ups throughout the day preventing an outstanding performance. At the head of the field lie a group of Peugeot's - Richard Burns, Harri Rovanpera, who has a different co-driver for this event following a recent operation on regular co-driver Risto Pietilainen, and Marcus Gronholm - who have created a large gap between themselves and the nearest rival Petter Solberg (Subaru). Colin McRae (Ford) makes up the top five.
Leg two is the longest of the rally taking crews southwest of the Jyvaskyla for 176.65 competitive kilometres in the Jämsä region including the longest test of the rally, the 40.84km Moksi-Leustu, before returning to the overnight halt at 21:11hrs.